The Baylor Lady Red Raiders will be facing arch-rival GPS late Wednesday afternoon in the losers bracket portion of the D-II state softball tournament being played here at the McKnight and Starplex fields after losing a 5-3 decision to St. Benedict of Auburndale in Wednesday morning's first game.
Baylor's offense has been explosive most of the season and Wednesday's game started off the same way, but senior right-hander Hanna Dennis had other ideas as Baylor's bats really never got untracked again.
The Lady Red Raiders watched their first four hitters reach base in the top of the first and two runs scored on a two-run single by Lauren Lewis.
Precious Birdsong led off with a double while Noelle Winkles reached on an error by the shortstop. Cassi Pickett got hit by a pitch to load the bases before Lauren Lewis lined a two-run single down the line in left.
Even with Baylor on the verge of blowing the game open almost before things got started, Dennis never lost her composure. She got the next three outs without further incident as the Lady Eagles trailed by just 2-0 when they came in for their first time at bat.
The Lady Eagles bounced right back with two runs on their own, one coming on an RBI-single by Bailey Coppedge while the other came via a bases loaded walk to Cameron Caldwell.
Senior Sarah Moore had been the starter for Baylor, but coach Kelli Smith replaced her with freshman Kayla Hughes following the walk to Caldwell to tie the game.
Hughes did her job as she struck out the next two hitters before retiring the side in order for the next three innings.
Conner Knott, a scrappy second baseman who was the number-nine hitter, led off the sixth with an infield single and eventually scored on a single by Dennis.
Baylor knotted the score with a run in the seventh as Moore led off with a single and eventually scored on the third of three errors by the Lady Eagles.
Then with the score tied and the potential for extra innings looming, the Lady Eagles got another key hit from Knott, a two-run single on a full count to drive in the eventual winning runs.
Michelle Farler had led off with a single before getting sacrificed to second by Caldwell. Another single Kendal Pearson sent Farler to third and Pearson went to second on the throw home. Hughes got Morgan Patrick on a pop to short before Knott came through with one of the biggest hits of her career.
Baylor had the heart of its order up in the seventh, but Pickett grounded to third for the first out before Lewis struck out swinging and Haley Andrus flied to right to end the game.
"That was a tough loss," Smith said after her team fell to 32-7.
"We had a chance to take the lead, but field conditions hurt our base running and we ended up leaving a lot of runners on base. St. Benedict showed that they were here to play, but it was just one of those days for us. We were never able to break the game open, but we just have to put this game behind us.
"We hit the ball hard and I thought both pitchers threw it well and we even played great defense. We've faced adversity before, so we'll just have to come back," Smith said calmly.
St. Benedict coach Joe Pearson was more excited than a kid at Christmas when his team made the final out.
"Incredible," he blurted after a post-game chat with his girls.
"Baylor has a great softball team and they're still the team to beat, but we were fortunate enough to string some hits together to pull it off. We've never won a game here at the state tournament, but we're dead set on winning this thing.
"We can enjoy this win for a little while, but we must turn our attention toward Pope John Paul II. One of the biggest keys for us today was our calm demeanor. We didn't buckle under the pressure, but Hanna has been in that position before. She stays calm and the others feed off of that," Pearson nodded.
Baylor finished the game with eight hits, including three from Lewis. Birdsong and Andrus both had a double while Pickett, Moore and Shelby Ellis all had a single apiece.
St. Benedict finished with seven hits with Knott the only Lady Eagle with two.
Dennis improved to 18-5 as she allowed those three runs on eight hits while striking out one and walking none.
Hughes suffered her fourth loss after allowing six hits and three runs in five and two-thirds innings. She had five strikeouts and no walks.
Baylor 200 001 0 -- 3 8 0
St. Benedict 200 012 x -- 5 7 3
Moore, Hughes (1) and Pickett; Dennis and Parsels.
(email John Hunt at email@example.com)